Interview with Tom Mereckis, Group Product Manager:
Microsoft Visio 2002
What was the
development time of Microsoft Visio 2002?
We took 15 months
total to design, develop, and test Visio 2002. We did this work against
a backdrop of being acquired by Microsoft Corporation, though on
balance, this was more of a bonus to the Visio Development team than a
hindrance. Basically, we started the project right around the time we
were acquired, and our new colleagues at Microsoft quickly got the team
up to speed on all the new tools, processes, and other resources we
could use to help make the project go more smoothly. Because access to
these Microsoft resources made our development effort smoother than we'd
ever experienced before, we achieved our first estimated ship date and
actually had a little time left over for some extra work and testing. We
also think the quality of the Visio 2002 product represents by far the
highest benchmark in the 11-year history of the Visio product. That
quality leap is tangible proof that the Microsoft acquisition of Visio
is a good thing for our customers.
How many people were
on the development team?
We had an extended
team of around 250 people working on the effort, including development,
program management, test, user assistance, localization, product
management, and others. We're especially proud that almost all of these
people came over to Microsoft from the Visio Corporation acquisition -
including one of Visio's co-founders, Ted Johnson. Ted is still actively
involved in Visio as VP of Microsoft's Business Tools Division, which
includes the Visio, Project, and MapPoint teams.
What new and improved
features does Visio 2002 have over the previous?
There's a lot to talk
about here. This is the first Microsoft-developed Visio product. Visio
2000 was really a Visio Corporation effort with few tweaks after the
acquisition. So during the Visio 2002 effort, we rolled in a lot of
improvements in terms of integrating with Office, SQL Server, Windows
Active Directory, Visual Studio, VBA 6.3, Project, and more.
Visio had always been well-integrated with a host of Microsoft
technologies, but this time around we made it a real focus in order to
raise the quality and capability bar up to the level of the rest of the
Microsoft Office Family of applications, because the reality is that
customers expect more from Microsoft, and our products are often under a
microscope as a result. We also added new shapes, improved many of our
specific diagramming solutions, and improved our Web publishing
capabilities dramatically. At the core of the Visio 2002 product, we
fully implemented Microsoft Installer, so Visio can be deployed and
managed just like Office now. This may seem like an unglamorous
improvement, but so far it's been a huge hit with larger corporations.
Everyone using Visio 2002 will notice the leap in visual quality derived
from implementation of GDI+, a new anti-aliasing graphical rendering
technology shared by Visio 2002 and Office XP. Finally, we added an
alternative XML file format for our customers and partners who want to
develop a custom Visio-based solution using XML.
Why were the previous
four versions combined into two?
We heard a chorus of
cries from customers, partners, and our own colleagues at Microsoft
saying "Your offerings are too complicated! Which Visio do I need?" Our
four Visio 2000 offerings were hard to make sense of, so we consolidated
Visio 2000 Professional and Visio 2000 Technical into Visio 2002
Professional. We took the advanced IT diagramming tools in Visio 2000
Enterprise and created an add-on to Visio 2002 Professional called Visio
Enterprise Network Tools. We took the software and database modeling
tools in Visio 2000 Enterprise and put them into the forthcoming Visual
Studio.NET Enterprise Architect Edition. We felt that since most of the
developers interested in modeling their applications have Visual Studio,
then that's where those tools should reside.
Were there any features
removed during this process?
No, we kept all of
it, added more, and improved much of the rest.
Some of our viewers may
be interesting in helping out in testing the next version of Visio. Is
your team accepting or planning to accept applications to join the beta
program for the next product?
We are not accepting
applications at this time, since we are still too early in our
development cycle for the next release. But we'll let you know when that
How do the Enterprise
Network Tools add to Visio 2002 Professional?
Professional 2002 is intended to provide comprehensive technical and
business diagramming tools for IT professionals, engineers, and
developers so they can interpret and share technical information with
ease. Visio Enterprise Network Tools (VENT), an add-on to Visio 2002
Professional, is a specialized network diagramming tool for network
managers. VENT is intended to take the sting out of documenting network
systems by having Visio automatically diagram the network
infrastructure, with port-level accuracy. VENT comes with a
complimentary subscription to the Visio Network Center, where IT
managers have access to a wealth of resources, such as white papers, and
additional network equipment shapes that will help them document and
manage their networks.
If Visio 2002 was still
in development today, what would you do differently or change now that
you've seen the product released?
Besides adding lots
of new specific features (a never-ending wish list!), we'd probably have
liked to work more on both the product's performance and extensibility.
More than that though, we wished the world of .NET had been further
along so that we could add some of those services to Visio.
What online resources
are there for users of Visio 2002?
In addition to the
wealth of information on the (http://www.microsoft.com/office/visio)
Official site and the TechNet and MSDN sites (http://www.microsoft.com/TechNet)
there is also a pretty good 3rd party resource page:
What is your key
selling point to businesses and developers?
Our key selling point
is that Visio accomplishes a very wide array of tasks for a variety of
people, from business users creating org charts and flowcharts, to
technical users designing, deploying, and maintaining systems with the
help of Visio, to custom solutions that become strategic and critical to
an organization. The amazing thing is that it is very easy to deploy,
very easy to use, and we do it all on one platform, which means you have
one Microsoft Office Family product to deploy and maintain, and you have
one basic usage paradigm for all these people in an organization to
learn. The only other option is deploying 10 or 20 specific-use tools
across your desktops, which is an option most IT and business decision
makers do not like.
We recently did a study with the help of the META Group which showed
that using Visio does indeed translate into real value. Among other
measures, Visio users were more than 40% more effective when using Visio
versus all other alternative means to complete that task, and even saved
themselves over 50% time for that task.
What do you respond to
those numerous users that criticize the MSPA (product activation) feature?
I think MSPA has been
misunderstood by many people. Microsoft designed Product Activation as a
way to verify software licenses and thwart the spread of software
piracy. People who use illegal software not only hurt themselves, they
also contribute to a problem that cumulatively can hurt job creation in
the software industry and related businesses. The 2000 BSA Software
Piracy Report estimates worldwide losses due to software piracy at
almost $12 billion for the year 2000. Software piracy also has a
significant impact on the high-tech industry, resulting in lost jobs,
decreased innovation and higher costs to consumers.
I know users are concerned about how much personal information they need
to give. But the only information that gets sent to Microsoft when you
activate your software is your Product ID number and the information you
enter (and the only thing you're required to enter is your country of
origin). I don't think people realize that.
Did the development
team work frequently with different departments at Microsoft in
designing/developing this product? How so?
We worked actively
with a wide variety of groups at Microsoft, all of which was a learning
experience since the vast majority of the folks working on Visio 2002
were from Visio Corporation, and were therefore new to the Microsoft way
of doing things. We worked with other development teams and development
support teams to get access to tools, processes, and other resources
that really helped us make Visio 2002 our best-ever release. The testing
of this product was just amazing. The resources Microsoft has to test
its products far surpass those we had available to us as Visio
During the development
of this product was there any hilarious or outlandish moments that stick
out in your mind?
Well, the day we
shipped off the final code stands out in my mind:
We decided to go all out for the Visio 2002 RTM and rent a stretch
limousine to take the gold CDs over to
A representative from each team that worked on Visio 2002 was designated
to ride in the limousine, along with the gold CD courier. Everyone was
invited to go down to the front of the building to see the CDs off in
the limo. As they prepared to leave, our courier and master schedule
manager Tim Davenport hatched a plan to trick people into thinking that
he had clumsily smashed the gold CDs to bits. He carried a set of
authentically-labeled but empty CD jewel cases in one hand, with the
real gold CDs in his briefcase. As everyone walked to the limo in front
of an audience of cheering Visioites, he let everyone believe that he
had the gold CDs in his hand. Before he got in the limo, he was asked to
pose for a photo in front of it with the CDs in his hand. After the
picture was taken, he said something like "Okay everyone, say goodbye to
the CDs!" As everyone chorused "goodbye," he tossed the jewel cases high
into the air so that they would come crashing down on the sidewalk in a
dramatic smash, shards of plastic flying into the crowd like shrapnel.
He then turned quickly around and hopped into the limo and off they went
to Redmond, leaving the duped crowd on the sidewalk.
What do you like
most about this product?
My personal favorite
is the new look - a Visio 2002 diagram just looks great now. I've heard
the same feedback from customers, press, analysts, and many others as
well, which surprised me, since there are a lot of other great new
things in the product as well.
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